Conservation of threatened habitats and species is required by European and Irish laws. Sustainable forest expansion that is compatible with conservation requires support from scientific studies of the ecological response to afforestation. While recent studies have investigated the bird communities of many types of forest and woodlands in Ireland, little comparable work has been undertaken to date on the impacts of afforestation on bird communities of rare and vulnerable habitats. This study set out to inform forest policy formulation and management practices that achieve a balance between the competing demands of timber production and environmental sustainability in our forests.
This project aims to identify the risks posed by forest planting to vulnerable habitats and bird species in Ireland, and to ensure that forest expansion targets are met without compromising vulnerable habitats or bird species. The objectives will be achieved using a combination of archived and newly collected data and will identify forest establishment and management measures to protect habitats and species and mitigate negative effects. Recent planting trends will be reviewed to identify vulnerable habitats and species and we will generate new data on the likely impact of forest expansion on conservation in these habitats. A case study of Merlin will be conducted to assess habitat selection in relation to forest habitats and the potential impacts of afforestation and forest management on Merlin conservation.
A survey of public perception of bird conservation in relation to forest expansion in Ireland was undertaken in 2014. During the 2014 bird breeding season fieldwork was conducted on bird communities in open habitats across the island of Ireland in order to investigate the effect of forest proximity on bird communities in these habitats. A case study of the use of forests by Merlin is ongoing using archived data collected over the past 40 years. Archived data is also being used to investigate the impact of forest expansion on protected birds and habitats in Ireland in relation to the EU Birds and Habitats Directives.
The findings of this study will be used to derive recommendations for the management of forest expansion in Ireland in relation to future afforestation targets which will deliver this expansion in a manner that is compatible with conservation of birds and habitats.